Anybody else sick of breaks already?
We’re already a month into the MLS season, but Orlando City (2-0-0, 6 points) is gearing up for just its third game of the season after a postponement in New England and the FIFA international break following the 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Union two weeks ago.
With a pair of home wins already in the books to open the year, the Lions hit the road for the first time this season as they travel to Ohio to take on the Eastern Conference-leading Columbus Crew (2-1-1, 7 points) at MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday night (4 p.m., UniMas and Facebook Live).
The all-time series between the two clubs has been tightly contested, to say the least. Columbus currently leads the series with two wins in five games, to Orlando City’s one victory. The two have tied on one contest. Both sides met just twice last season, with Orlando City coming back to draw with the Crew, 2-2, in Columbus, before the Crew came down to Orlando in September to lay a 4-1 beat down on the struggling Lions.
Orlando City has yet to win in Columbus, with just two goals in its three trips to MAPFRE Stadium.
Amid rumors of European teams showing interest in Cyle Larin and reports of Luis Gil preparing to join the team from Mexico, Orlando City has been fairly quiet over the last two weeks since grabbing all three points in an exciting win over the Philadelphia Union at Orlando City Stadium.
I don’t expect to see any surprises when the lineups come out on Saturday afternoon. Scott Sutter has been with the club for a couple of weeks now, and this could be the game that Jason Kreis introduces him to the starting lineup. But the fact that Will Johnson was still training at right back this week suggests Sutter could be on the bench for this one as Kreis tries not to force him into the lineup too quickly against a dangerous Crew offense.
So with that, it seems like we could be in for Johnson to start at right back yet again alongside Jonathan Spector, Jose Aja, and Donny Toia, who signed a three-year extension with the club this past week.
Kreis has been using the 4-4-2 to start the year, as expected, but it hasn’t been the diamond shape that he has been best known for throughout his days in MLS, instead playing the team flat through the first two games. Assuming no changes, Giles Barnes, Servando Carrasco, Antonio Nocerino, and Matias Perez Garcia seem slated as the midfield starters.
And of course, Cyle Larin, who already has three goals through the first two games, and Carlos Rivas, who also has a pair of assists on those Larin goals, figure to be the pair of strikers at the top of the formation.
The Crew made some headlines Thursday with the announcement that they had acquired forward Kekuta Manneh in exchange for Tony Tchani and $300,000 in allocation money from the Vancouver Whitecaps. That’s a big addition for the Crew, but it’s easy for one to assume that Manneh won’t be starting for his new club on such a short turnaround. That would be a big plus for the Lions.
On the Crew back line, Jonathan Mensah could be out with a hamstring strain, which means Alex Crognale, a Homegrown defender, could get the start.
Columbus fields a pretty loaded midfield with Wil Trapp manning the defensive midfield, and attacking midfielders Ethan Finlay, Frederico Higuain, and Justin Meram lining to attempt to bite at the Lions defense. Finlay is a key playmaker on the right side, which means Toia will have his hands full throughout the match. Higuain isn’t the same player he was a few years ago, but that doesn’t mean he won’t give the defense challenges as the match wears on.
Up top, Ola Kamara is no Kei Kamara, but he’s still been one of the most dangerous forwards in the league since joining the club after the start of last season, and he’s already got three goals from the club’s first four games.
Player To Watch For:
Like I said, Kamara is a beast in front of the net, and he’s going to be a guy that tests Spector and Aja throughout the match, with the help of his talented attacking midfield.
Prediction: Orlando City 2, Columbus Crew 2
Orlando City hasn’t been able to find a win in Columbus, and I don’t think the Lions will get one Saturday. The Crew look better than they did last season, and with the lineup they have, they should. The Lions will be able to take advantage of Columbus’ somewhat weaker back line than what they’ve seen so far in 2017, but at the same time, Orlando’s defense will have a tough challenge on the road. This should be an entertaining contest.